Estonian universities may back out of commitments if extra funding is cut

Tallinn University.
Tallinn University. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

During the ongoing Estonian state budget negotiations, one of the options being discussed to increase savings involves a potential reduction in the level of extra funding promised to higher educational institutions. Estonia's universities are however opposed to such suggestions.

A little over a year ago, the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research signed an administrative agreement with university rectors that would increase operating subsidies for universities by 15 percent annually for the next four years. Now however, the possibility of reducing this increase to ten percent is being discussed during the state budget negotiations.

If such cuts are implemented, universities have suggested the possibility of reneging on some of their prior commitments to the state.

"We are in a situation where, as the state goes back on its commitments, we would have to withdraw from the commitments we are able to withdraw from. Unfortunately, these are not commitments that we made decades ago, they are commitments which were made recently. /.../ For Tallinn University, the new commitments concern the increased training of teachers and support for the transition to teaching in Estonian. These are the things we need most," said Tallinn University Rector Tõnu Viik.

Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) has also already drawn up plans to use the additional funding. Starting next year, the salaries of lecturers, as well as admissions to the faculty of engineering have been earmarked to increase by ten percent. Several options are also on the table to make higher education partly fee-paying.

"Today, we have agreed that higher education could be [state] funded once [per person], with the first higher educational qualification free of charge. In this way, part-time study would be possible, with working people paying for their studies. There are also the one-year master's programs, where people who already have one master's degree pay for their [additional] studies. There are plenty of options," said TalTech Rector Tiit Land.

The Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EÜL) is also in favor of these options. However, a system whereby all higher education would require fees to be paid by students would push more people away from further studies and onto the labor market.

"We can already see that for working students, their outgoings have grown faster than their income over the years, which means that they may turn to the labor market instead of higher education and therefore higher education could end up taking a back seat. Surely that is not what we want," said Lennart Mathias Männik, deputy head of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EÜL).

Last year, the Reform Party campaigned for additional funding for higher education making it all the more surprising for party member and professor at the University of Tartu Margit Sutrop that this could be considered as an area from which to make cuts.

"This has been one of my main election promises, to really better understand the funding of higher education and research," said Sutrop.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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